Being More Effective While Teaching Online Music Lessons

Teaching music online can have its challenges.  However, being more effective during online lessons doesn’t have to require a tech degree.  With a few simple tweaks, I’ve discovered how to get through just as much, if not more, moving online vs. in-person.

While I’m giving examples through the lens of online lessons, these tips will work just as well if you are teaching hybrid or in-person music lessons!

Be proactive

As a parent, the value of being proactive was especially evident when our twins were very young.  As a teacher, I was outnumbered in the classroom.  And as a parent, I was right from the start as well.  Being proactive ranged from making sure my kids had regular meals & snacks to keeping them strapped in their high chairs after painting until everything was cleaned up. 

When I wasn’t proactive, things like an entire bottle of Elmer’s glue dumped on a dining chair happened.   From personal experience, I can tell you that while microfiber cleans easily it can’t handle the sheer volume of water & scrubbing needed to get all that glue out.  The chairs never really recovered from toddler twins.

In the studio, there are several ways to be proactive.  From the first lesson, teach students:

  • How to sign in & what to do if there are issues
  • Exactly how to set up their device so you can see them & the instrument
  • Where to find resources they will access on a weekly basis
  • What you expect both during lessons & during the week
  • How to ask for help if they need it

Spending the extra time in the first few lessons makes a huge difference in how independent students will be.

This takes a lot of pressure off parents.  And when pressure is off the parents, they are more likely to keep their children in lessons.  Have you noticed it tends to be when parents get stressed & overwhelmed that lessons are more likely to get dropped?  Even my youngest students are able to set up the device, access the resources they need,  & use the basic controls in our streaming software.  This independence makes students & their parents happy.

Start with purpose

Whether you teach online or in-person, transitioning between activities can be a challenge for many students.  Helping students switch to “music thinking” is necessary to reduce indecision or inattentiveness.

I always begin lessons with a “How are you?” or “How do you feel things went this week?”  This is the beginning of transitioning into lessons & gives me a peek into how my student is doing at the moment.  After a couple of minutes, we transition into a musical activity.

Warm-ups are an easy way to change the focus to lesson time.  Some examples are:

  • Technique: an oldie, but goodie
  • Improvising
  • Sight-reading
  • Ear-training
  • Music appreciation
  • Music lab/games

Lessons should be a flow between activities that guide your student to the skills & knowledge they need to be successful during practice.  But in order to get to that flow state, you need to start with a clear purpose.

Some students will naturally let you know what they need as a first activity.  “Things went well, but I know I need help with getting the rhythm solid in this song.”  This is exciting because your student has taken ownership of their learning & is analyzing what is needed to be successful!

Other students need a nudge to get into the right headspace.  Whether it’s a mind that’s wandering, lagging energy or the maturity hasn’t quite got there, these students will probably need a warm-up that guides them to their learning.

Being effective during online lessons starts with a clear purpose that guides all activities & resources for the entire lesson.

Catch Attention BEFORE it wanes

One week, I dropped the ball with one of my students.  In my excitement to go through songs & activities, I didn’t pay attention until it was too late.  He was done & with 4 minutes left it was a bit late for me to turn things around.

We all make this mistake at times.  Whether it’s tiredness, a wandering mind or excitement to follow the plan, we don’t always pay attention to how our students are doing.  The goal & key to being effective during online lessons is to keep it from happening more than once in a row.

Our students give us many signals throughout lessons as to how they feel.  It can be:

  • Body language: slumping, less eye contact, etc.
  • Words & inflection: “Fine.” said without enthusiasm, mumbling, etc.
  • The way they play: monotone, careless mistakes, etc.

Using off-the-bench activities removes your student from the situation & gives them the opportunity to reset.

Have you noticed that once a student is bored playing one song they tend to be bored playing the others?  Moving away from the bench places the student in a new physical location.  This new location (though still very close to the original) still signals to the brain, “This is something new.  Let’s check it out!”

Depending on the age of the student & what kind of day they are having, you could:

  • Be active: Wiggly learners love Simon Says or running laps to release their pent-up energy.  Whole-body movement activities keep the learning happening in a different way.
  • Take a brain break: We love using the YouTube videos of the Just Dance games.  For older students, stretches or talking about other topics is a great option.
  • Do a digital escape room or play an app
  • Just listen: Sometimes this is the best thing we can do for students that have come into lesson time already overwhelmed.

Whatever you choose, remember that it doesn’t have to be a long activity.  It just has to be a reset.

Make use of tech

Even before transitioning online, technology played an important part in my studio.  As a travelling teacher, carrying multiple books, manipulatives, games, etc. meant at one point I had potentially 3 bags with me each day.  Not only was it hard on my shoulder, but it was awkward to gather together everything.  Using a rolling bag/suitcase was more streamlined, but trying to find what I needed was a challenge.  Instead, I strove to have everything I needed on either my iPad Pro or an iPad for student use.

Some ways to make use of technology are:

  • Digital copies of games: Whether online permanently or once in a while, scan game boards & pieces so you have access to the ‘fun stuff’.
  • Record videos & backing tracks: Create a library that is either private or housed on your studio YouTube channel.
  • Use apps:  Students enjoy the gameplay & you can smile knowing they are still learning.
  • Online access to resources:  Banish “I didn’t know what to do” with easy access to resources students need during the week.
  • Add music lab: This is a fantastic programming option that can be moved to your online lessons as well.

Chances are the majority of your students are familiar with technology & using it is second nature.  Especially in a world where a pandemic can result in restrictions on (if not outright cancellation of) in-person lessons, using technology is a must.

Using tech is not an all-or-nothing prospect.  The back & forth between teacher & student is a big part of great lessons.  Technology should support that dialogue, not replace it.

Being effective during online lessons requires making the most of the tech tools you have.

Being effective during online lessons …

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt in being effective during online lessons is that there isn’t as much difference between in-person & online as I originally thought. There are pros & cons to each. When looked at through this lens, online lessons can be a fantastic addition to your studio. Whether that’s 100%, only in emergencies or a hybrid approach.

If you are looking for ways to add some interactive fun to your online lessons, check out these music lab resources. You can share your screen … or have your student complete it on their device. The choice is yours!

Looking for Music Lab activities?

What tips have helped you be more effective while teaching online music lessons?

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